What is Kindness?


Isabela Contreras, Staff Writer

Kindness is something I’ve struggled with a lot. I have a hard time deciphering when to be kind and when not to be. It just doesn’t come to me as naturally as it does to others. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons why I grapple with this. I’m the youngest of five and was raised with the mentality that you don’t always have to be nice; I learned to not trust everyone at a younger age than I probably should have. Whatever it may be, the point is that somewhere along the line, I got mean. So, something that I ask myself a lot is: what is kindness? 

I don’t think kindness is the same as niceness. Being nice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being kind, and that distinction is something I’ve found crucial in my quest to discover what kindness is. I’ve met a lot of nice, selfish people. I’ve met a lot of nice, immoral people. Being nice is just smiling at people when it seems appropriate, such as sharing a compliment when you like something about someone’s appearance. Niceness is just pleasantries. But it isn’t kindness. 

There have been many times when I thought I could learn what kindness was from others — or even from love. I met a few people who claim to live their lives by making the kindest, most reasonable decision they can. However, being around them, I really ended up learning what kindness isn’t. See, they were just nice, making the decisions that were the nicest for themselves. But they weren’t kind. And I’d tried to see if love could teach me to be kind, but for all the lessons it taught me, kindness wasn’t one of them.

I was on the right track, though, with looking to understand kindness through other people. And the day I learned what kindness is, I wasn’t even looking for it. 

Kindness found its way to me in the form of my friend Diana. We were coworkers. Over the past year of working together, she had quickly become one of my closest companions. On one regular, boring day in February, I was assigned to fold clothes in the back warehouse at our job. It was around noon when I was clocking in and Diana was clocking out. Even though she was off, she shared a complaint with me about having to work in the back. The only upside was that workers were allowed to listen to music in the back, which meant my shift wasn’t going to be entirely unbearable. But a quick search in my bag told me I had left my earbuds at home, which then meant my shift was going to be unbearable. I sighed and sat sadly at the folding table, gearing up for the next few hours of silent work.

But the moment Diana saw I had forgotten mine, she took her headphones off and handed them to me.

I stared at her in shock. One thing to know about Diana is that music is what carries her through her days. She cannot live without it. I’ve never seen her go anywhere without her headphones on, with either Taylor Swift or some emo-punk song blasting. As I said, it was barely noon, and she still had her whole day ahead of her. I wasn’t going to see her later on, and I wasn’t even sure we would work together soon after that. She had no idea when she was going to see me next, and yet there she was, offering me her headphones so that I might enjoy my shift ever so slightly more. 

She insisted I take them. She left them with me happily. I got to spend my entire shift watching “New Girl” and feeling so lucky that Diana was my friend.

It was simply the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. I think about this act of kindness all the time, especially during moments like when I see her bobbing her head to a song that’s playing on her Beats or when I run into her on campus and she pulls them down to talk to me, or when she fixes her bangs that are laid awkwardly from having her Beats on all day. She doesn’t realize it — I’ve never told her — but when I catch a glimpse of moments like these, I’m reminded of her generosity. 

Kindness is not just being nice because it’s convenient and looks good; not just loving for the sake of loving, but doing so to make the other person happier, even if it’s just a little bit more. Kindness is selflessness. Kindness is in the littlest things. Kindness is made up of simple gestures that stick with you. Kindness is the impression people leave behind —  an impression that outlasts marred love and fake niceties. 

Kindness is my friend Diana. When I think of her and her kindness, I’m reminded of lyrics from my favorite song (“The Archer” by Taylor Swift, of course): “They see right through me, can you see right through me?” I’d always felt kind of sad listening to it, but thinking of her and the impact she’s had on me makes me grateful to have someone who sees right through me. She somehow sees through my meaner moments, through my dramatics and antics, all the way through every wall I had put up. She sees me, and despite that, she is still kind. 

That’s what kindness is supposed to do, I think. Not only does it reach the other person, but it makes them feel as though they deserve it.

Happy (very late) birthday, Diana. And (early) congratulations on graduating. You are the loveliest person I know. As cheesy as this whole thing is, you deserve it. Thank you for teaching me what kindness is.

Photo Via Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.com